Real Men Change Diapers

I don’t think you can truly appreciate fatherhood unless you get it on you.  Babies are messy little things, and the thing about messes is, they have to be cleaned up.  Later, baby becomes a teenager, and there’s the teenager’s room…but hey, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I am so proud of my son-in-law David.  Baby Paul Gordon arrived a week ago, and David dived right in.  He’s a hands-on father, and that includes diapers.  He goes about it like he’s been doing it all his life.  There are some things, like nourishment, that David can’t provide; daughter Lee is in charge of that.  But everything else, David is eager to do, and does.  The guy bonding thing is in full bloom, and I predict that it will last a lifetime. 

Fatherhood can be an awkward thing.  For one thing, what precedes fatherhood is mostly out of our hands.  In my novel Old Dogs and Children, my heroine, Bright Birdsong, is pregnant, and husband Fitzhugh is at loose ends.  A wise older woman says to Bright, “He can’t help it.  Biggest thing a man ever do is begat.  Every time a woman get with child, you see the man struttin’ around like a peahen ‘cause he done begat.  Hell, ain’t nothing to begattin’.  It’s after the begattin’ that you gets down to bidness.  And that drive the man near about crazy ‘cause he can’t run the bidness.”

This sort of male displacement often continues after the blessed event.  Our instincts run to hunting and gathering, and after we’ve returned to the cave with what we’ve hunted and gathered, we are prone to kick back by the fire, light a pipe, pop a beer, and sit by as the little woman does the rest, which includes the nurturing stuff.  So when we put aside the pipe and the beer and get fatherhood on us, we’re working against type.  But when we do that, we discover that the rewards are enormous, that being hands-on touches deep and important things in our souls.  Not to speak of what we give the kid.

My own father never had much chance at the messy stuff.  Soon after I was born, he shipped out for Europe and the Big War, so it was just Mom and me and the messy stuff.  The one story I heard from that period was about a 2:00 AM feeding that went awry.  Dad put my bottle in a pan of water on the stove and promptly dozed off, to be awakened by a loud boom when the bottle exploded, leaving the ceiling above the stove dripping with milk and embedded with bottle shards.  Europe may have been a relief for him.  By the time he returned from war, I was well out of diapers and wondering, WHO THE HELL IS THIS STRANGE MAN IN MY HOUSE?  We bonded, but it took awhile.

As for me, I was a diaper changer when our girls came along.  I wasn’t the perfect father – no man is – but along with the hunting and gathering, I tried to contribute to the nurturing part, too.  I got fatherhood on me, and I’m mighty glad I did.

Okay, diaper changing isn’t essential for successful fatherhood.  For one reason or another, a new father may not help with that job.  But hands-on nurturing is.  Touching, holding, loving unconditionally.  Guiding, supporting, caring.  Those are the essentials.  All I have to do to remind myself of that is watch my son-in-law.  David, You the man.

Bad Weather? Blame an Author

There are some folks who seem to think my writing contributes to natural calamities.  There may be some truth to that.  The evidence keeps piling up.


As I look out my office window, there is a foot of snow in my back yard and on the golf course just beyond the hedge.  Kids on sleds are having great fun barreling down the twelfth fairway while some of their parents are slipping and sliding along the roadways in our area.  It’s the biggest snowfall in North Carolina in a decade.  For those who consider anything more than an inch of snow a calamity, I’m afraid they may start blaming Cooper Lanier.

Cooper is the heroine of my latest novel, The Governor’s Lady, newly-elected governor of her southern state.  On the second day she’s in office, the state is hit by a blizzard which paralyzes everything, and the snow serves as a backdrop against which a test of wills plays out between Cooper and her husband Pickett (former governor and now presidential candidate).  Will Cooper be a figurehead, a stand-in for Pickett, or will she be a dynamic decision-maker in her own right?  How she deals with the blizzard sets the stage for what comes after.

When ill-prepared Atlanta got flummoxed by snow a couple of weeks ago, several readers suggested that the honchos there should have read The Governor’s Lady to see how to handle things.  So far, no one has suggested that my inclusion of the blizzard in the story was a portent of Atlanta’s calamity.  But with a foot of snow in my back yard today, and folks slipping and sliding, I’m a tad concerned that rumblings will begin and Cooper and I will get the evil eye.

Nonsense, you say.  But it has happened before.  I grew up in a river town in Alabama, and during my youth the local lore was rife with stories of the Great Flood of 1929, when the river got out of its banks and inundated the town.  My grandmother and her four kids had to escape their home in a rowboat.  While I was growing up, the river behaved itself.  Then in 1991, I published Old Dogs and Children, set in a southern town much like my own.  One of the major events is a flood.  My heroine, Bright Birdsong, escapes with her small child in a rowboat.

The novel had barely made it into print when – you guessed it – my hometown flooded.  The river, calm all those years, went nuts.  Local folks are invariably nice people, and no one said to my face that the book was to blame for the calamity, but for years after, I got jaundiced looks whenever I visited, even in church on Sunday.  I think most folks have finally forgotten and forgiven.

I would like to share the blame for any natural disaster with my fellow storytellers.  We may all be complicit in this sort of thing, whether we write of calamities or not.  The computer age has a lot to do with it.  I sit at my keyboard typing away and constantly mashing the backspace key or even highlighting and deleting entire sentences – nay, paragraphs – of slovenly prose.  By definition, it is bad stuff, not worthy of human consumption.  Where does all that bad stuff go when I zap it from my computer?  I wonder if it may be floating around out there in the ether, roiling the atmosphere and contributing to floods, hurricanes, forest fires, sun spots, and other assorted natural maladies.  Who knows, it may even be contributing to the dysfunction in Congress.

But if any of this is the case, my fellow storytellers and I will just have to live with it.  We scribble on, employing imagined disasters as grist for our tales.  All we ask is, the next time a blizzard hits your locality, don’t run over your local author with your sled.